4th of July Hike

I decided to honor the 4th of July by putting some of my most basic survival skills to the test: walking, and even just existing, outside.  If you’ve read my page Me, by the Numbers you’ll know that I hadn’t yet tested some of the basics – how long I can survive outdoors, and how long I can hike.  Outdoor living is an obvious skill to any survivalist, but hiking is just as important.  It might very well be your main form of transportation in a disaster, and distances that take just 15 minutes in a car would likely take you all day on foot.

Pedestrian travel can take even longer if your city’s roads aren’t very walker-friendly.  For instance, many overpasses and underpasses have no place for walkers in Kansas City, forcing pedestrians miles out of their way just to get to the other side of one of the many interstates.  Historically, travelers had to deal with rivers, streams, and much hillier terrain, so we shouldn’t complain.  Here’s a strategy for overcoming this:

  1. Start a large pedestrian campaign in your city, eventually leading to a policy that every bridge, overpass, or underpass, indead every road, has a dedicated walkway.  The goal here is to make sure every place a car can go is just as accessible by pedestrians.
  2. Wait 10-15 years for this policy to manifest itself through new construction, and retro-fitting existing roadways.
  3. While you’re waiting, recall the Serenity Prayer.  Accept the things you cannot change, and simply take 3 months and build up your hiking fitness to the point where an extra mile isn’t the difference between life and death! Don’t depend on your local government to make things easy.  You might not even be in your own city when disaster strikes.

All sarcastic preachiness aside, I really just wanted to see what I’m capable of.  I’m reading a book about surviving natural disasters, and the decision to leave your car in an emergency to get home.  Most of the places I hang out with friends are actually 10-15 miles away from my house.  So if i can’t make it that far under perfect circumstances, with carefully prepared supplies, how could I hope to do it when the chips are down?

The Mission

Wake up at 5:30 am.  Drink my breakfast shake, specially prepared the night before.  Make a last bathroom trip, and leave from house on foot with plenty of water, food, and supplies, and a trekking pole.  Follow the nearby major street 2.5 miles to the well-maintained, paved 17 mile local bike trail.  See how far I can make it before calling the wife and kids to come get me.

Play it safe.  As a precaution, text message the wife every half hour.  If I miss 2, she will call me herself.  If I don’t answer, she’ll drive out to the trail and attempt to find me.  She has a map of the entire trail, with half-mile markers and vehicle access points clearly labelled.  She’ll know where I was no more than an hour prior, so she’ll start walking from there.  If she can’t find me quickly, she’ll call 911.

I’ll hike for 10.5 miles, 4 hours, or total exhaustion – whichever comes first.  I’ll then call family to pick me up at the nearest access point.  They’re spaced 2 miles apart, so I’m never more than 1 mile from an access point.

Here’s what I took with me:

  • A Camelbak 2-liter water carrier, worn like a backpack but smaller.  Still has minimal pocket space.
  • My survival tin with matches, bandages, and other goodies stuffed into an Altoids can and taped up to be waterproof.
  • A poncho and survival blanket.  It’s basically a large, thin, metallic sheet of foil meant to reflect water and wind, and reflect your body heat back to you.
  • 6 granola bars.
  • A glow stick, in case it gets dark or I need to be found/seen.
  • A flint/magnesium fire starting kit with tinder.
  • Extra shirt and pair of socks.  It’d rained all night, and I didn’t want to get drenched and have to stay that way before I had a chance to get the poncho on.
  • A trekking pole, which is a fancy walking stick with a palm strap, height adjustment, some shock absorption, and a mini compass built into the handle.
  • A camping knife.
  • A trail map.

What actually happened

Although I’d planned to be out of bed at 5:30, the alarm didn’t go off, and my wife woke me at 6:20.  For some reason, I felt like if I was going to be late, I should be exactly 1 hour late.  So I laid back down for 10 more minutes, which turned into 20.  When I first wake I’m delirious, so this goofy logic made sense at the time.  Aside from forgetting my pedometer for the first city block of the trip, the morning preparations went slow but well.  I officially hit the road at 7:15 am.

While the original intent of the trip was to gauge my hiking fitness and learn how to use the hiking pole I plan to always leave in my trunk, I found myself captivated by nature.  Overall, I saw 11 deer, 3 wild turkeys, a turtle, and even a feisty red crayfish crossing the bike path!  I took some pictures, stopped and stared, swordfought the crayfish stick-to-claw, and generally slowed my hiking pace while skyrocketing my enjoyment of the trip.  That, combined with a 75 minute late start, cut my walking short.

In summary, it was a 3 hour, 45 minute walk with 10 minute breaks every hour, and I made it 8 miles.  I was thrilled!  My pace was a little slow, but I made the full time I had available.  The family even got out and we walked part of the trail together looking for more deer (and spotting two).  The hardest part came afterward, when my muscles stiffened and walking was hard for about 24 hours.

Retrospective

Looking back, I can better prepare for my next hike.  Here are some problems I had, and my proposed solutions for next time.

P: I’m a bigger guy, and my thighs chaffed.  This was noticeable and slightly painful the last hour of the hike.
S:
Dare I look at buying a pair of biker shorts to wear under my clothes?  This would kill the friction, and nobody would be the wiser.

P: Soreness.
S:
This will get better with time, but I think stretching before and after will also help.

P: Not enough storage.  I had to stuff that camelbak, and I’m glad I didn’t have to try to refill it with all that other stuff pushing on the water bladder.
S:
I need a bigger hiking backpack, one that includes or accepts a 2-liter water bladder.  I think Wal-Mart has them for $20-30.

P: I wish it would have been easier to spot and photograph the wildlife I saw.
S:
I should borrow my wife’s camera instead of using the one on my phone.  Optical zoom would have made my deer pics come out much better.  Also, I need to find/buy a cheap set of binoculars.

P: My trekking pole was annoyingly clacky with every step.
S:
This was a cheap Wal-Mart pole.  In the long term, a better quality pole would be best.  For now, I’d settle for a rubber foot I can affix to the bottom.

I plan on doing this again, soon.  I’ll be walking every day to build my endurance.  Eventually, I’d like to be able to do an 8-hour hike with regular breaks, covering 15 miles or more.  Ultimately, I’d like to be able to extend the hike for days by carrying overnight gear.  We’ll see.

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